BREWER, Maine — City councilors, residents, candidates and local and state police union representatives voiced their opinions on Monday about a local referendum that will ask voters whether they want to create an advisory committee with Bangor to look into ways to save money.
While some were adamantly for the referendum, others were just as firmly against the measure, and at times the informational meeting became heated.
“If you join in with Bangor, there isn’t going to be any Brewer,” one woman said.
“You’re just looking at creating a committee to look at saving money,” said a man.
Councilors Manley DeBeck, Larry Doughty and Gail Kelly, who oppose the referendum, hosted the meeting.
Councilors Joseph Ferris and Mayor Arthur “Archie” Verow, who support the committee’s creation and who gathered signatures to get the question on the November ballot, sat in the front row of the group of about 40 participants.
Brewer police and fire personnel sat in the back.
The November ballot question asks voters to approve creating an advisory committee with Bangor charged with “making recommendations to the respective city councils identifying how both cities can work together to achieve savings and efficiencies in the operation of-and services provided by them to their respective communities.”“It sounds pretty simple, but unfortunately I don’t think it is,” said DeBeck, who started the meeting with a short history of the proposed committee.
Bangor City Councilor Richard Stone and Ferris, who are friends, thought up the idea. Stone sponsored a Bangor resolve creating the committee, which that council passed 7-2 on April 27. It charges the committee “with identifying minimal annual collective organizational savings of 1.5 million dollars.”
During the May 26 Brewer council meeting, Stone said it would take a reduction of 30 employees who made $50,000 annually to equal the $1.5 million in savings.
The three Brewer councilors opposed to the referendum say they are uncomfortable with mandating annual cuts of $1.5 million, which if split evenly would result in $750,000 in annual reductions for Brewer.
“We need to look at ways we can save money,” said Ferris, who added the cuts would not be split 50-50, since Bangor is nearly three times the size of Brewer. “This committee would get together, and the City Council would still have to vote on it. This is to look at ways to save money, to brainstorm.”
DeBeck listed possible city department cuts that might occur and said consolidating police, fire and public works departments is a possibility.
After DeBeck finished, resident Frank Gallant made his opinion known loud and clear.
“I’m sorry, Manley, but I think you’re playing Chicken Little and the sky is falling,” he said.
Others, including the Brewer Police Officers Association and Paul Gaspar, executive director of the Maine Association of Police, strongly voiced anxiety over passage of the referendum.
“We come to you concerned about the proposed plan to engage in discussions that we feel would result in the reduction of those essential public safety services under the guise of efficiencies,” said Officer Stephen Boyd, police union president.
Gaspar added, “It seems to me you have good communication [between the two cities]. I don’t see how creating another layer of government would improve that.”
City Council candidates Patricia Preble and Jerry Goss, who are running against Doughty and Kelly for their seats, each gave their opinions.
“Bangor is not going to play with Brewer, they’re going to eat Brewer alive,” Preble said.
Goss said he is in favor of discussions with Bangor but stressed that if he were elected, “I would not vote in favor of any recommendation to reduce the Brewer Police Department.”
The referendum question will be a discussion item at a Meet the Candidates forum hosted by the Brewer Education Association scheduled for 7 tonight at Brewer High School.